Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sankofa (Part One)

"Sankofa" is a Swahili word that means "looking backward to move forward."

Today marks the first day of a new year! The past several years have been a roller coaster of emotions - with highs and mostly lows - trudging along this journey of finding peace in the midst of colliding worlds. This past year in particular, 2005, has been a milestone year for me because it's been marked with freedom, clarity, and cohesion that has released me to live an active lifestyle of faith in the context of being gay.

How did I get to this point? How is it possible that I can live, with good conscience, both a Christian and gay life? Now that I'm here, where do I go now?

Sankofa. In a series of four posts, I shall attempt to reflect backward so that I may move forward in the direction that God has called me . . . .

Being filipino, I grew up with a Catholic background. I remember going to mass but for the most part we were pretty much non-practicing. I was born in the Philippines and left at about the age of 3 years old. I haven't been back since so I don't remember anything about it. My family moved to Illinois for a couple of years (the last time I remember falling snow) then moved to Hawaii. I spent my elementary years on the island of Oahu - no, i never did learn how to surf!

It was here when I remember my first gay inclinations. In 3rd grade, I started to have crushes on fellow boy classmates. I also knew that it was considered wrong. Even at that young age, I sensed the stigma attached to what I was feeling. I knew that I couldn't tell anyone or else people would make fun of me. I "tried" to have crushes on girls. I remember trying to draw my attention to Cherie (in 4th grade) and Allison (in 5th grade) but it was never as natural as I felt towards Scott and David. Yeah, I knew I was gay.

My parents decided to divorce after I was in 6th grade. I chose to live with my mom and so we moved to Southern California - to Long Beach. Junior high school years are cruel and unforgiving. 7th grade was marked by physical awkwardness, social insecurities, and gym class. It didn't help much that I was new and didn't have any friends, that I got the chicken pox and missed several weeks of school and had difficulty catching up, and that I was a gay pre-teen experiencing puberty in a school where no one wanted to be called a 'fag'! Ouch. Those were tough times.

The only redeeming thing that happened to me by 8th grade was learning how to dance. My cousin and her neighbor friend had the heart to invest some time with me in teaching me some 'moves' for the dance. Here's a flashback for those who remember the great American urban 80's: i learned the 'running man', the 'roger rabbit', the 'troop', the 'kid-n-play', the 'robocop', the 'electric slide', and the standard step side to side and move your arms about casually to look like you're having a good time. Dancing. The day of the 8th grade dance (where I had a girl date) was the day I rose up the social ladder - one rung.

By 9th grade, high school, I had a bit more confidence. I had friends. I joined JROTC where my brother had been a successful predecessor before me so my last name was well known. He had just graduated so I wasn't in his shadow. I had the opportunity to prove myself on my own merit. JROTC is a military structured high school program (this was public school) that teaches leadership and discipline. I was a cadet. I was already feeling detached from my family after the divorce - I suppose, in a way, I emotionally divorced them and gradually became independent - and so JROTC was the perfect context to find community in esprit de corps. I was a part of the armed rifle exhibition drill team. We had a strong camaraderie because we were city champions and were very competitive across the region. I found a place where I could be acknowledged when I performed well. By the end of my freshman year, I had a large amount of ribbons and medals (awards and recognitions) to wear on my uniform, competition trophies, and a school athletic letter to sport on a jacket (should I have ever chosen to get one).

It was also in 9th grade when I had my first big crush. I was a freshman who had a senior for a best friend. It wasn't just my fantasy or imagination. He called me his best friend too. He was a senior cadet in JROTC also and so we spent alot of time together. One day, I felt the crazy notion to tell him I was gay. Actually, I chickened out and watered it down by saying, "I think I'm bi." He responded with an, "oh." We didn't talk about it since. I don't remember much after that except that I think he told a few people.

In the Spring of the same year, the night of the senior's prom, I felt like my best friend had rejected me. At the time, my head was spinning from the confusion and self-hatred of being gay. I had also started surfacing the bitterness, anger, and sadness about the divorce - feelings that I had repressed and was just now allowing myself to experience. I felt rejected by my parents as if they were divorcing me. I felt rejected by my best friend as if he were divorcing me. I felt rejected by my friends (who either knowingly or unknowingly made fag jokes often) as if they were divorcing me. I felt rejected by the world that held this stigma of being gay against me even though it wasn't my fault. It wasn't my fault. Or was it?

So I decided to die.

The medicine cabinet had lots of options. I had heard once that taking a bottle of asprin could stop a person's heart. Good idea. I began to empty out the bottles in the medicine cabinet. I held the bottom of my shirt out like a pouch and collected all the pills. Then I managed to scoop all the pills into both my hands cupped together. Two full handfulls of pills and I poured them into my mouth trying my best to swallow them as they went down. Once my hands were free, I cupped my hands with water and washed down the rest of the pills.

That was it. It was finished. I did the deed and I was ready. I put on one of those Catholic rosary necklaces around my neck and went to bed. Now I could finally sleep. No one knew what I had done. No one knew that I would have needed to go to the hospital.

I had a digital clock in my room, so it was easy for me to see the time. It was 4:00 PM. My head was tired from the whirlwind of craziness going on inside so I fell asleep pretty quickly. And I slept for three hours.

I opened my eyes. It was 7:00 PM. My head felt hazy and I looked around a dark and spinning room. I didn't feel sick to my stomach. But all of a sudden I felt as if I was carried up out of my bed and over to the bathroom toilet. As I knelt over it, it happened. The stirring began from deep down and the eruption traveled up my throat and out into the toilet. Oh F*ck! That feeling completely sucked! I tasted the bile and the medication in my mouth and the room was spinning and my palms were cold but sweaty. I felt a chill and I dragged myself to bed. Oh God that sucked! I closed my eyes and fell asleep.

I opened my eyes. It was 8:00 PM. Haziness - darkness - spinning. It was weird. I felt carried up again out of my bed and over to the toilet. No. Not again. Stirring. Eruption. Throat. Up and out. Oh F*ck! That feeling completely sucked! Didn't I just go through this? I crawled back to bed with my mouth still flavored with the taste of bile and medicine. Vomitting sucks. I fell asleep again, thank God.

I opened my eyes. It was 9:00PM. No. Not again. I felt carried up out of my bed to face my porcelain punishment. I stood there, looking into the water, knowing what was inevitably going to happen. I felt the churn from deep within. My throat was already sore. The floodgates were unleashed and my insides gushed up and out and down into the toilet. Oh F*ck! That feeling completely sucked! Alright already. Let me be done with this! Flush. Crawl. Bed. Bile. This poor schmuck fell asleep.

I opened my eyes. It was 10:00PM. Same thing. 11:00PM. Same thing. 12:00AM. Same thing. Every hour, on the hour - like clock work - every time feeling carried up out of my bed and over to the toilet as if some unseen Being were pumping my stomach of its contents. No one else was going to do it. Every hour, on the hour, from 7:00PM until 5:00AM. Divinely timed.

I never wanted to die so badly in my life! If I ever had a reason to end it all, it was this night. I would rather die than vomit one . . . . more . . . . time.

Surviving suicide completely sucks.

In hindsight, I can see the intervention of a God who knew my name before I acknowledged His. This was the year 1990 and He wasn't quite done with me yet . . . .

*Read on to Sankofa (Part Two) to read about how Jesus entered the scene and the realization of colliding worlds!


Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading about the effect that Jesus Christ had on your life. From the sounds of your post, you really needed Christ in your life.

True Story: When I was a university student, my roommate asked me, "What would happen if I took this bottle of Tylenol?" I responded, "I don't know, but you sure won't have a headache for a long time!" So he did.

The result was that the next day, he checked himself into the hospital. I think he had some amount of liver and/or kidney damage. We lost touch soon after that. (I'm not sure if I should add, "needless to say," or "to my shame".)

Anonymous said...

That's a very heavy story to read. I'm sure it is much heavier to tell when you've lived it. Please keep the next two parts coming and let b-a know when you post. It's very good to know that things are better now than they were then. Take care.

Anonymous said...

(((((Eric)))))) I thank God that He was watching over you that night.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog and started by reading the "Sankofa" pieces. Even though I am picking up on your story late, I really appreciate reading about you. Thank you for opening up and sharing so much about your life.

I am just now starting on my own journey of reconciling my sexuality with Christianity. As I start to look into myself and assess my relationship with God, and also ask the questions of what it is and how I can be gay and Christian, it very encouraging to read about other gay Christians and their accounts of how they have walked this same path.

I also want to point out that “Sankofa” as used is not a Swahilli word as you say but rather an Akan word. Akan is a language group which includes Twi and Fante, spoken by different ethnic groups in Ghana (West Africa).